Violet and the Pie of Life

Holiday House. Mar. 2021. 256p. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9780823447558.
Gr 4-7–Violet is a white, middle-class seventh grader in Orange County, and all she wants is for her life to make mathematical sense. Math is her best subject and how she understands the world; she frequently reflects on her decisions, struggles, and yearnings with pie charts, graphs, ratios, frequencies, and the order of operations. Her mathematical reflections are portrayed in the book through illuminating illustrations. But problems arise in Violet’s world: Her parents have been fighting more intensely, and suddenly her dad leaves and Violet can’t contact him. Also, she has mixed feelings about trying out for her school production of The Wizard of Oz with her best friend, McKenzie, but decides to stick it out when she earns the role of the Cowardly Lion. McKenzie, who tends to be negative, tries to get Violet to quit, ragging on the seemingly perfect Ally, who is cast as Dorothy, the play’s lead. Violet’s emotions are all over the place, and she often takes her frustration out on her well-meaning mom, who has high standards. Opportunities for Violet’s race and class consciousness are dealt with on a basic level. Ally, adopted by her grandparents, struggles with the pressure she feels as a dark-skinned Dorothy. McKenzie, whose mom identifies as a “free range parent,” has a run-down house and ill-fitting clothes. Throughout the book, Violet stays focused on her own small acts of courage and doesn’t authentically awaken to the struggles of those around her.
VERDICT A simplified yet worthy STEAM read where stories of middle school travails resonate.

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